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Run-rule routine for Mathews

Mustangs look forward to postseason

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Mustangs junior Ella Vaupel dashes toward third base during Saturday’s game. Vaupel had four hits in the win.

VIENNA — Of the 24 games the Mathews softball team has played this season, the Mustangs have ended 16 of them early. The 16th came on Saturday as Mathews took down Jefferson, 10-0, in six innings.

Emma Gates pitched a one-hitter for the Mustangs, recording nine strikeouts and walking none. She also was a force at the plate, hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the third.

It was a historic day for Mustang coach Jim Nicula, who picked up his 200th win as the team’s coach. Nicula, who started with the program in 2012, made sure to credit all the players he’s coached over the years for him reaching this point.

“It feels awesome,” he said. “It’s never about me, just like all the other coaches. It’s not about the individual coach, it’s about the program and the teams that they coach throughout the years. I’m homegrown here at Mathews and I’ve known kids that have been here well before I was.

“We started in 2012 and had enormous success right off the beginning because we built it from the early 2000s and it feels really good for all the kids that have been part of that 200 up to this point.”

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Chloe Sweitzer runs to first base during the Mustangs’ 10-0 win over Jefferson Saturday.

Mathews has been on a tear this season, currently holding a perfect 15-0 record in Northeastern Athletic Conference play with one game to go. More impressively, the Mustangs have run-ruled their opponents in every league game this year. Mathews sits at 20-4 on the year overall.

“I feel like we’ve been superb,” senior first baseman Bella Spano said. “Chemistry has been great, bats have been working great, defense, pitching, all around. We’ve been a solid team playing high competition every season, as always, to make sure we are prepared for a tournament season.”

Chemistry is a large factor on this Mustangs team. Nicula tries to build as much chemistry as possible and it shows in the team’s performance this season.

“We try to keep all the kids playing together as long as possible through rec ball,” he said. “Even though they’re playing travel ball, they still play a summer league together and that’s where you really build that chemistry. … This group of kids plays pretty much year around together and it just adds to that.”

The team’s 4-3 loss to Bristol in 2019 in a district final still lingers deep with the Mathews senior class. Combine that with the cancellation of the 2020 season, and there’s a huge fire burning under the team’s five seniors to make the most of this season.

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Mathews pitcher Emma Gates kicks up dirt as she fires a pitch during Saturday’s win over Jefferson. The junior hit a 3-run home run in the third inning.

“Last year we lost a really good group of seniors that we were really close with,” senior second baseman Kylie Nicholson said. “We’ve played with them since we were 9 or 10. That was our group, so missing them was kind of heartbreaking, but we really came out with this season, prepared to work hard and not only do it for ourselves but to do it for them. We’re excited to be here and win for them.

“We lost our junior year and in our sophomore year, we ended our season on kind of a bad note in a rival game, so we were excited to come out here and prove who we are and what we can do, and just show everybody.”

The Mustangs are certainly showing people what they’re capable of, picking up two impressive wins in mid-April, taking down Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and Massillon Perry in the same week.

Mathews isn’t afraid of a test, in fact, the Mustangs relish the opportunity, knowing it’s only going to help them once the tournament rolls around.

“I think we just keep proving that we’re not just little old Mathews and that we can compete with anybody,” Nicholson said. “We will compete with anybody and our coach sets us up for that in the best way possible by allowing us to play those games.”

The Mustangs close out the regular season Tuesday against Bloomfield. Mathews is the top seed in the Candlelite Knolls District and will host the winner of Fairport Harbor and Southern Local on Wednesday in the second round.

For the Mustangs, they just want to play as long as they can.

“We’re capable of going as far as we can go,” Spano said. “The only one stopping us at this point is ourselves, so we can go as far as we want. It’s our story, we can write it.

“The last group to go to a regional semifinal was my eighth-grade year, so none of us got to witness a regional game. We definitely want to make it and be there.”

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